Archive for the Halloween Category

9 More Films to Watch on Halloween

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Halloween is upon us again! In response to a list I wrote up last year, here are a few more gruesome delights to conjure on this, the spookiest of days.

OVER THE GARDEN WALL (Hulu)

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While really a miniseries, the accumulated episodes equal film length (about 2 hours); and you’d be hard-pressed not to watch them all at once. This is a gorgeously animated and brilliantly plotted piece of cinematic art. The color palette, full of browns and oranges, evokes autumnal perfection; and the supernatural elements are legitimately frightening. A philosophical, charming, scary and beautiful October treat.

BASKIN (Netflix)

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Haunted houses are one of the foremost attractions of the season – paying good money to immerse yourself in a four-dimensional horror film. BASKIN is an actual film that looks, sounds and feels like one of these attractions, from the (dis)comfort of your living room. With stunning and colorful imagery, a bone-rattling score and hellish atmosphere for days, this chaotic descent into hell is an eye-popping blast.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Amazon)

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There are dozens of Shelley adaptations, and dozens of Hammer films, that are suitable for this list – but the Curse stands out. This is the film that started England’s reclamation of Gothic horror, in beautiful, bloody Technicolor. The images of corpses, desecrated graves, and finally the monster himself, are truly grotesque, especially considering the decade in which the film was made. It’s a ghoulish, brutal version of the Frankenstein story.

THE IRON ROSE (Shudder)

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One does not tread far into the realm of Eurohorror without hearing of Jean Rollin. He made his fame on erotic, poetic vampire films – such as Requiem for a Vampire and The Living Dead Girl – and this, while it contains no undead, is one of his finest. The plot is shockingly simple, with two horny kids stuck in a graveyard after dark; but Rollin’s direction creates a moody, existential work of dread that leaves its mental mark.

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Netflix)

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While not necessarily a horror film in itself, aside from a few scenes, Ana Lily Amirpour’s ingenious production fits the season perfectly. The gloomy monochrome and the badass title character create an atmosphere of cool loneliness, echoing the quiet hours toward midnight on the 31st. It’s not frightening, but phantasmal – the perfect film for a less scary sabbath celebration. And it helps that it’s truly original, unlike anything else.

HABIT (Shudder)

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Another vampire offering, this one more traditionally frightening. Larry Fessenden’s indie game-changer starts on Halloween night as a man (played by Fessenden) meets a mysterious woman who starts plaguing his life, sexually and emotionally. It’s a slow-moving accumulation of atmosphere, evoking the Urban Gothic grunge of New York, and also depicting one of the most uncanny, elemental vampires I’ve ever seen on screen.

THE BEYOND (Shudder)

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Anyone who knows me well enough is aware that I am addicted to Italian horror films. Lucio Fulci’s cosmic, apocalyptic wackfest is one of the most fun offerings. Full of the walking dead, voodoo practices, disgusting death scenes and a sense of utter dread that sneaks up on you, this is a grand cinematic nightmare. It has all the creepy and gory flavor of a Halloween night gone wrong.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (Hulu)

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Another Fessenden production, this time helmed by new indie horror icon Ti West. Not only was it one of the first ‘nostalgic’ horror films of recent years – it recreates 80s occult atmosphere perfectly – but it’s also wonderfully creepy in its own right. This demonic chiller uses silence, isolation and a mounting sense of wrongness to create dread; culminating in a grand climax of demonic evil. Pure horror fun.

BLACK SABBATH (Shudder)

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There are several Bava films that could qualify for this list; but this one has Boris Karloff in it. What else do you need? On top of Karloff’s presence, this anthology film is stocked with amazing visuals, and is surprisingly terrifying (the final story will cause nightmares). Go for the Italian cut if you can. This is Gothic cinema at its best, and sets a standard for structuring anthology films (Italian cut only).

Short Story: OUT THERE

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2016 by smuckyproductions

A little mood piece about darkness for the Halloween season. 

OUT THERE

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The stars stared. Jem could see thousands of them, unshielded by clouds or pollution from the city. He wondered how many of them could see down this far – or perhaps the distance blinded them. But they are so big, Jem mused, that they can see as far as they like.

“Over here,” Jem’s father said.

He stood several yards away, at the edge of the street where the grass began. Winnie waited at his knee. Jem skipped closer and looked behind them, at the strip of subdivision. Its lights almost overpowered the stars, if you looked at them too long; but they could not shut out the mounds of hills, heaped on all sides. From far away, Jem imagined, these houses would look pitiful, and at any moment the hills could lean forward and swallow them. He blinked, cleared his eyes of electric light, and turned back toward his father. The flashlight he held revealed a patch of grass in front of them, and the beginnings of the forest. Otherwise everything was shadow – the stars glowed but did not illuminate. Jem knew that, when he stood behind the flashlight, he was a shadow, too. He kept himself there, wondering if he felt any different, ensured that he was only two steps away from the flashlight and reality.

“Go on,” his father said to Winnie. She perked up and trotted away into the grass, which half-devoured her. Jem’s father kept the flashlight trained on her without fault. He did not blink or flinch; in fact, Jem noticed that his hand bulged with veins, from the strain of keeping still. The beam did not waver, either – it cut a single hole in the dark, allowing the trees and rocks beyond to remain formless until sunrise.

Jem’s father had protested when Jem asked to go outside, too, and wait for Winnie to take care of herself. He said he did not want to deal with Jem being frightened in the dark. Their first night in the mountains, after being accustomed to the suburbs and the city where darkness was just a lower grade of light, Jem really had been afraid – he did not sleep for fear that the dark, so heavy and complete in the mountains, would break through the window of his room. But, when morning came and proved his survival, Jem realized that the dark was not an enemy. It allowed him to transform; without the watchful streetlights and windows, always keeping his body illuminated, he could become anything. He did not express these notions to his father, who would have snorted and shaken his head. He simply promised that he would not be afraid of the dark. Though the shadows were strong beyond the flashlight and hinted at moving shapes, Jem felt no fear. Besides, if anything should approach, Winnie would alert them.

She squatted now, glancing back at them with something like embarrassment, and marked her territory –she always did so over a small hole, once occupied by a fox. “Good girl,” said Jem’s father, almost like a command. Winnie straightened herself and trotted back, a bit faster than before. Jem’s father turned to follow, but Jem lingered and faced the dark again – did they have to go inside so soon? He felt the shadow on his skin, and marveled at how strong it seemed. His eyes strained to see detail and failed. A thrill wormed into his abdomen and worked its away up until he was grinning. Stay like this, he thought. Stay.

“What, girl?” his father was saying. “What’s there?”

Jem glanced up and saw Winnie staring at him. Her face was rigid, nose pointed at his head, or something behind it. The flashlight blasted into his eyes as his father followed Winnie’s lead. While his eyes danced with red and readjusted, Jem heard his father mutter something, a nasty sounding word. He looked where Winnie pointed, and his face was slack with dread.

The grass rustled behind Jem – a soft, inviting sound – and he turned to see what everyone else did. “Don’t,” his father snapped.

Jem would have disregarded the command, but he had never heard his father’s voice crack like that, as if he was being choked. Jem turned back to him and frowned in silent inquiry. His father waved a hand, beckoning, and Winnie took a step back. A low growl rumbled in her chest as she stared.

“Come here,” his father said, and the grass rustled again.

He walked toward the flashlight only to satisfy his father. The dark still felt calm and exciting on his skin. The flashlight was so loud in comparison. His father was shaking it now, as if flicking a whip. “Back,” he barked, not to Jem. “Back.”

Now behind his father, Jem turned to look. His eyes had quite recovered from the flashlight’s glare, so he was blind to the dark; and before he could blink away the light his father’s hand was over his face. “Don’t look,” his father cried.

“Why?”

“Because I said so.” It was not a demand but a plea. Jem looked back at the house; but slowly, long enough to glimpse something in the grass, whose movement was utterly wrong as it crept closer. The flashlight’s dancing beam did not allow for a more concrete view. His father continued to growl, “Back, back;” and something hissed, or sighed, in protest. Jem did not hear the sound so much as imagine it – no physical vocal chords could have produced it. He was suddenly glad that he had looked away.

Winnie had already raced back toward the house, and now his father followed, pushing Jem alongside him. The flashlight was weak next to the streetlamps. Jem took a last glance up, at the far away stars, and then the door slammed shut, and his father was coughing out a grotesque noise. Jem thought he might be laughing, maybe, and left him alone.

Neither of them spoke for some time. Jem’s father vanished into the bathroom for a while, where he continued making the noise, and Jem watched through the living room window in his absence. He could not see much beyond his reflection. It was possible that something looked back, and he would have turned off all the lights in order to see it, but then his father emerged, red-faced and sniffling.

“Why couldn’t I look?” Jem said immediately.

His father stared at him, as if not recognizing him. “Some things you don’t need to see quite yet,” he muttered. “There’s things out there that don’t leave you once you see them. That was one. You’ll have your time someday. But not yet.”

Jem nodded and pretended to understand.

“Promise me you won’t go out there,” his father said; his voice croaked again.

I’m not scared, Jem thought, but whispered, “I promise.”

His father smiled and murmured, “Good boy.” Then he retreated to his room again, shut the door, and locked it.

Jem stayed at the window and looked at his reflection. The glass made it look faded, uncertain, and small. He scowled and tried to see beyond. The darkness was still there, and would be for hours. Perhaps that meant the sighing thing was still there, too. He pushed away from the window and crept toward the front door. Winnie stared at him as he went, but did not protest. His hand fell on the knob, heavy and final; he would wait until his father started to snore, then he would go look.

Best Movies to Watch on Halloween

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2015 by smuckyproductions

THE DAY HAS ARRIVED! Movie marathons commence, costumes are fussed over, and legions of undead-for-a-day ghouls crawl the earth to celebrate Hallow’s Eve. In the spirit of this joyous and spooky occasion, here are my 10 favorite horror films to watch on Halloween.

It goes without saying that, for me, all of these films capture something about the essence of Halloween – the liminal autumn air, the dying leaves, and the electrifying sense of the impending uncanny.

  1. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

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Trick or treating gone wrong: everyone comes knocking at your door, but instead of candy, they want your guts. George Romero’s visceral, paranoid and ground-breaking classic is a must for October. (That’s why MTV plays it every 31st.) It’s disturbing, suspenseful, and phenomenal for its introduction of the zombie trope.

  1. THE HAUNTING

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From the brilliant novel by Shirley Jackson comes one of the scariest haunted house stories of all time. Fabulously acted, beautifully designed and utterly terrifying without showing any ghosts, this film is a landmark of horror. It reminds us that madness and anxiety are the true monsters. And there’s no better villain than a house that preys on those things.

  1. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

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Controversial, to be sure, but in the right mindset, ‘Blair Witch’ is exhaustingly disturbing. Set in the autumn woods and featuring a great folktale as its backdrop, the true terror comes from the breakdown of the human mind. It’s an exercise in restraint – which is why many will hate it – but for those with whom it connects, the experience is pure horror.

  1. THE FOG

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A perfectly simple ghost story, an eerie seaside atmosphere, and a score by John Carpenter – what more can you want? This film is calm and chilling until suddenly it breaks out in mist-shrouded horror. It’s perfect for a Hallow’s Eve sunset when things just start waking up.

  1. HELLRAISER

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One of the purest horror films of all time, Clive Barker’s cinematic debut is all visuals and world-building – and it does an amazing job at that. Disgusting without being tasteless, and featuring some of the most brutally scary villains of all time, this one is required viewing for the strong-stomached. Behind all the goo, it’s quite beautiful, too.

  1. THE EXORCIST

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Another example of pure horror. A genius work of cinema, this film attacks all the senses and also some of the basest fears. It takes no prisoners as it spins its tale of normality upended by pure evil, and what goodness means in the face of such a thing. Brutal, brilliant and bold – and, of course, monstrously frightening.

  1. SUSPIRIA

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With a terrific score and some of the most beautiful camerawork in all of horror, this Italian giallo is the perfect dose of surrealism for Hallow’s Eve. It shuns the idea of ‘plot’ and ‘logic’ in favor of a dreamy series of scenes, which crescendo into utter terror. This is one sick, bloody fairy tale.

  1. THE EVIL DEAD

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The original cabin-in-the-woods movie. It remains one of the most flawed movies on this list, but it possesses (no pun intended) such intensity and non-stop brutal horror that the viewer can’t pay attention to mistakes – they’re too busy having a ball. Like a haunted-house video game on film, it’s an unprecedented blast.

9. TRICK R’ TREAT

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Obviously. This one isn’t that scary, but it is one of the greatest homages to this holiday. With an onslaught of different monsters – from werewolves to zombies to a principal-turned-serial-killer – and a killer atmosphere, it’s hard to think of a better film to kick off the season. But…

10. HALLOWEEN

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One cannot ignore the master. It’s simple, it’s slow-building, and you hardly see it coming, but this film captures the October spirit – while also scaring the sh!t out of everyone – like no other film out there. Eerie, heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and completely phantasmal, this is the quintessential Halloween film – just look at the title.

That’s all for now, ghouls! Go out and haunt the streets tonight. Get ready to be scared.

Short Story: TRICK FOR TREAT

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2015 by smuckyproductions

In time for Halloween, here’s a little story about a different kind of trick-or-treating.

TRICK FOR TREAT

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Dressed in a white sheet, the shape went out at sunset, when the bare branches were black against a sky of fire and the cries of children lilted on the wind. No one looked twice at the shape. Gliding behind the other costumed children, he looked like any other little boy. He did not speak and was not spoken to, until the group he followed reached the porch and rang the doorbell. Creeping up the steps, past fresh pumpkins leering with ephemeral faces and false spider webs drifting in the brittle air, he waited for the tribute like the other children, but did not say “thank you” and flee giggling to the next house as they did; and the adults, looking down at what they thought was a child, would pause, smiles fading, and speak. When they went quiet and had shut the door, he was free to dissolve into another group, and at the house next door, would do the same.

When the adults leaned down and looked into the holes in his sheet, expecting to see the glint of eyes, they spoke in soft voices. They said, “Well, no, I’m not sure I do love him;” or, “I meant to throw those dirty magazines away, but I couldn’t stop staring at them, I couldn’t look away.” He listened as they went on – “He doesn’t look at me anymore;” “I never wanted to touch that student, but he was so, so beautiful;” “You know, sometimes I do wonder, I do want to know what she would look like dead.” In their whispered tones the words had no more substance than the autumn wind that curled around them. They flitted off into the leaves, into the moonlight, and into the holes in his sheet, where they twisted and hardened into something material. Once the words could no longer sustain themselves, he left. The speaker would stand frozen for a moment, frowning and staring at the ground, trying to understand the hollow that had formed inside their chests. It never took them long to realize that they would never understand, so they trailed back inside. He did not know what happened to them after that.

The violet evening and black night shrouded him for long enough, and allowed him to visit many houses, hiding in the folds of plastic devils or cheap satin witches, who he knew did not see him. Only the adults, herding their children down the street or stumbling on their way to a neighbor’s party, would stop and watch. Once the moon began to peak in the sky, and the children were dragged back into their homes, he would no longer be safe roaming in the open. With no one left to camouflage him, he faded back into the night, from whence he had come. The sheet fluttered away and stuck in the branches, a ghost of its own; and he, uncovered, became an It, blended seamlessly with the dark. Under the cold moon and the black branches, he could feast on the treats he had plundered, the breathed secrets that had been tricked from the mouths of those who refused to acknowledge them.

How I Pick My Halloween Films

Posted in Dark Musings, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by smuckyproductions

THREE. MORE. DAYS. 

Until the best, most horrifying day of the year. And one of my favorite ways to celebrate is to curate a marathon of films that speak to the spirit of Halloween. As a horror fan, this isn’t terribly difficult, but I still believe there is a precision to the selection process.

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When I mention this to the uninitiated, the response is usually simple – aren’t all horror films good for Halloween? My personal answer is: No. I am undoubtedly pickier than most, but many horror films don’t fit into the spirit at all. (It always confuses me why “The Shining” – year-round, my favorite movie of all time – is always chosen for October movie nights. It’s a winter movie, guys.) It’s a combination of atmosphere, imagery, and storyline, not just scariness.IMG_1097

So, what are my guidelines? I’m not totally sure. But it has to do with the spirit of Halloween itself. This holiday is a celebration of the spectral, the liminal, and the uncanny. The air itself is brittle with the impending change of seasons. Fireplaces newly lit exude a smell of homely smoke, and the quality of the light becomes shadowy as nights grow shorter. Houses drift and lunge with paper ghosts and fake spiderweb. It’s a unique time of year, tingling with a pleasant time of dread, as candles ignite and costumes conceal – so unique that film has a difficult time capturing the authentic atmosphere.

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Films that work for me, then, evoke the intangible and phantasmal quality of October. Surrealism and dream logic are the best examples. Synth-y music and dreamy camerawork combine to transport the viewer into a world apart.

There’s also the stories, of course. Monsters and ghouls make up so much of the childlike glee of Halloween – things that aren’t real become possible. Films that feature a terrific, fantastical villain, perhaps even several to give the film the quality of a well-produced haunted attraction, pay tribute to the variety of creatures that come to life on the 31st. These films don’t have to make their monsters scary, either. They just have to be honest.

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It isn’t precise, and is certainly ridiculous, but I hold true to my little science: autumnal atmosphere, ethereal score, dream logic, and a funhouse-esque parade of ghouls. Films that feature most, or all, of these qualifications are my favorite for the Halloween season.

Watch out for my personal top 10 list, coming out the day before Halloween, if you’re wondering what meets my conditions!

OVER THE GARDEN WALL: A Modern Classic

Posted in Halloween, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Animation has been at the forefront of the avant-garde television movement, with countless shows – “Adventure Time” and “Rick and Morty,” to name just two – combining vividly unique styles with subversively brilliant storylines. It’s a genre-bending, form-defying renaissance. And from this revolution has come a great Halloween gift: OVER THE GARDEN WALL.

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When reading a logline or seeing the poster for the first time, this Cartoon Network-produced miniseries sounds fairly typical: two brothers get lost in a spooky wood and must find their way home. In execution, the show transcends this premise and fills it with subtle, sublime brilliance. The brothers encounter characters who reveal dark but poignant themes about isolation and loneliness, and also travel on their own philosophical journey, struggling with a purgatorial loss of hope and purpose.

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Through the music, the character design and the general atmosphere, the show places itself in an amorphous early-1900s period that is purely enchanting. The supporting characters range from animals dressed in old-fashioned clothes, grotesque witches, and skeleton-dressed pumpkins. And the forest through which the brothers must find their way is stunningly designed. The animation is luminous, with soft oranges and browns that evoke autumn perfectly. It evokes something akin to “Wind in the Willows,” with a gentle aura that can sometimes turn sinister.

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But these are just style elements. The true genius lies in the characters and stories. Throughout the ten episodes, the brothers encounter about as many different characters – my particular favorites were Auntie Whispers (voiced by Tim Curry) and the pumpkin people – who each evoke something of the lost purpose that the brothers feel themselves. And the villain, a terrifyingly simple creation called The Beast, stands as a testament that the greatest evil is often the most invisible and enticing. I won’t reveal the theme that this creature represents, but suffice to say, it culminates in a heartbreakingly beautiful finale.

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“Over the Garden Wall” also holds itself as one of the greatest examples of animated horror that I’ve seen. The Beast being the greatest example, but supported by a number of other ghouls and wicked creatures, this show displays an unsettling ability to scare the viewer – all without breaching its target audience of young viewers. For this reason, and because of the atmosphere, it’s ultimate Halloween viewing – standing alongside “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” I dare say. Horror does not have to be hardcore to unsettle; in fact, subtle can sometimes be scarier.

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With terror, philosophy, and beauty combined, “Over the Garden Wall” feels like a classic birthed in our modern era – not only for its craft, but for its sincerity. No note of this show comes off as false or pandering. The creators truly believe what they’re making, and each frame is instilled with that passion. It feels honest and raw, which causes it to touch the viewer so much more intimately. The humor, the fear, and the sadness all come from a real, truthful place. It’s cathartic, in the end – and who ever thought a children’s show could be cathartic? That’s why it transcends its boundaries and creates something universally brilliant. And, it so happens, one of the best Halloween watches of all time.

Four Horror Novels for Halloween

Posted in Dark Musings, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Happy Halloweek, everyone! To kick off prime celebration time, I’ve put together a short list of my favorite horror novels that capture the Samhain spirit. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it scratches the surface.

For atmosphere, ghouls, and disturbing stories, these are four novels that can’t be missed.

THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ouvre goes beyond tedious, forced high school reads. “Seven Gables” is a classic American Gothic, stocked full of Puritan themes, eerie imagery of witchcraft and brutal settlements, and a terrific drama about a cursed family. The titular house is full of spectres not seen, but felt, memories that won’t go away. By now, a plot like this has been overdone, but Hawthorne’s gorgeous descriptions make up for any familiarity. Autumnal and phantasmal, it’s a must-read.

PET SEMATARY

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Yeah, yeah, Stephen King is great and all. But not all of his novels are suited for Halloween reading. “Pet Sematary,” though, has it all – cursed graveyards, undead children, evil spirits, and a spooky suburban setting over which the presence of death hangs like fog. On top of that, it’s beyond terrifying. The first time I read it, I had to put it down while I waited for the chills to pass so I could keep going. With both entertaining and psychological horror, and one of the most disturbing ending lines of all time, this one is perfect for ghost season.

HELL HOUSE

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A terribly cheesy title – but this is one of the best horror novels of the 1970s. Penned by weird fiction master Richard Matheson, this novel is oppressively atmospheric, with doom and dread oozing from the first pages. The house is masterfully described and full of hidden horrors – in true 70s fashion, psychedelic and sensual, too. The terse prose creates such an aura of paranoia and horror that it’s actually difficult to read through, but the suspense is such that you can’t stop. For a quick, terrifying, and entertaining read, with all the Halloween trappings, there is no better book.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

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If you talk about Hell House, you have to talk about Hill House. Shirley Jackson is the master of quiet, psychological horror. This book pairs her brilliant character analysis with an uncanny haunted house story, a combination that results in madness and terror. It subverts the cliches in the most disturbing way possible. And Hill House is one of the most formidable villains in all of dark literature – how can you fight a house? Finding a way to dissect loneliness and agoraphobia within the most ghostly of places, “Hill House” is a truly horrific read.

As Halloweek chugs along, keep your eyes peeled for more original Smucky stories and short films! And stay spooked – it’s the best time of the year.